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R.I.P. Film Critic Roger Ebert (1942-2013)

Roger Ebert, the legendary Chicago Sun-Times movie critic and television host whose insights, passion and advocacy for film influenced generations of artists and art appreciators, passed away Thursday of complications from cancer. The 70-year-old Ebert struggled with health problems for many years, including intensive surgeries that would leave him without a speaking voice and physically changed almost beyond recognition, but also which seemed to make the writer even more dedicated to his important work. As criticism moved away from the newspaper model he’d worked in since the 1960s and onto the Web, Ebert availed himself of new communications technology to make his work even more widely read and, consequently, even more discussed. Ebert said divisive things on a number of topics, such as questioning the validity of videogames as “art” and of course blasting some certain comic book movies, but in every case the critic was earnest, thoughtful and frequently very funny.Concerning films based on comic books, Ebert was notable among his peers for approaching the material with the same respect and standards that he would a film in any other genre, from Richard Donner’s 1977 film Superman: The Movie — which he listed among his ten favorite of the 1970s — onward. The critic refused to give lesser superhero movies the “Bang! Pow! Whack!” pass that other writers (and fans) would, and demanded the genre rise to meet the occasion of its increasingly immense popularity.

From Ebert’s review of The Dark Knight:

Something fundamental seems to be happening in the upper realms of the comic-book movie. “Spider-Man II” (2004) may have defined the high point of the traditional film based on comic-book heroes. A movie like the new “Hellboy II” allows its director free rein for his fantastical visions. But now “Iron Man” and even more so “The Dark Knight” move the genre into deeper waters. They realize, as some comic-book readers instinctively do, that these stories touch on deep fears, traumas, fantasies and hopes.

It was only earlier this week that Ebert announced via his blog that he had been diagnosed with cancer again, and that as such he’d be taking what he called a “leave of presence.” Because of the planned chemotherapy treatment, Ebert intended to lessen his considerable reviewing duties at the Chicago Sun-Times so that he could relaunch his personal website and archive and launch a Kickstarter to produce new episodes of his beloved television show “At the Movies,” the hugely influential film review program he created with his friend and fellow critic Gene Siskel, who himself died from cancer-related complications in 1999. Ebert also wanted to develop some kind of video game-related project in response to his own critics who’d disagreed with his unflattering assessment of the medium. He concluded the final missive with, “So on this day of reflection I say again, thank you for going on this journey with me. I’ll see you at the movies.”

Ebert is survived by his wife, step-daughter and two step-grandchildren.

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